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A Spark To Tear A Nation Asunder

Chapters: 14 Pages: 69 Word Count: 16,926 Genre: Science Fiction/Political Drama/War Story

Major Samantha Wethermain has only wanted one thing: to serve the nation she loves. However, as civil war comes to the United States and her mother turns out to be the leader of the rebellion, Samantha faces a dilemma: does she uphold her oath, or does she join her mother in treason? Find out in the story that reveals how the Second American Civil War began.

Chapter 1: Dreaming of A Life That Never Will Be

Heather felt like she had awoken in a dream. With her hand clasping her husband’s, they strolled towards the beach. The morning’s sun illuminated the path they took from their villa to the coast. Seagulls chirped, their silhouettes visible high over the ocean. A breeze blew across Heather’s back, causing her bare skin to tingle and a smile to form.

Heather looked up at the horizon, noting how the sun’s light mingled with the sky to create a pallet of reds, yellows, and oranges. Blissful. Serene.

“Every night I thought of you and Samantha,” Henry said. “Held you in my heart. Held onto the hope that this war would end, and that I would see you both again.”

“There there,” Heather comforted Henry. “The war is over. We’re together.”

Henry turned and stroked her chin. “And now I must leave you again.”

“No. You just came back to me. Don’t go. I can’t live without you.”

“I’m sorry, my love, but I must. The war is over, and we lost.” Henry released his grip and headed towards the rising sun and the horizon beyond.

Heather tried to follow, but the landscaped changed, with a wire fence now barding her path. Beyond it stood an Arabian city. It laid beside a desert. Missiles rose from concealed silos, their wails competing with the cries of sirens. Henry vanished within the dust clouds created by their launches, the sand obscuring Heather’s vision as the cloud rolled past her.

When they cleared, Henry appeared again and waved. Heather clenched the fence and screamed, “Come back. Don’t leave me. I can’t live without you.”

“I love you,” he said, then made his way towards a tower off in the distance.

Heather cried, only to stop when a light engulfed the tower. It shined like a supernova. Not even her hands could shield her from it. Eventually, it faded, and Heather peeked, her reward the sight of a mushroom cloud enveloping the city. More formed as…

California Vice Governor Wethermain awoke in a long chair in the backyard, while a golden retriever shoved a Frisbee in her face.

“Yes, yes. Here you go.” She took the Frisbee and tossed it across the lawn.

Frank ran after it, freeing Heather to reach for the martini that rested on the stand beside her. She took a sip, then went for a cigarette and a lighter.

“You shouldn’t be indulging in that habit,” her assistant Rebecca said as she approached Heather, a binder in hand. “You’re a role model to millions of girls.”

“Oh, give me a break. I’m the vice governor of a state, not the fuckin’ President.”

“You should still try to set an example.”

Heather lit the cigarette and took a puff. “Why? America has gone to shit. Really doesn’t matter what anyone does anymore. We’re all screwed.”

Rebecca shook her head, then placed the binder on the table. “Don’t say that.”

Heather frowned. “Why not? The Middle East is gone. The economy is in shambles, our allies hate us, and what do we have to show for it? A bunch of stupid MAGA hats. Oh wait, we don’t even have those. They were made in China, and the Chinese aren’t exactly trading with us these days. Don’t blame them. Who would want to invest in this shithole of a country.”

“Things aren’t all bad. America can still make a comeback. We just have to hold onto hope.”

“Hope? Really? Let’s see what cheery news we can look forward to today.” Heather grabbed the remote and turned on the large monitor that stood across the patio.

Images flashed over it: police hosing down rioters, the crowd driven into a frenzy because of the rise of food prices. Heather tapped the remote and was rewarded with talk of Hurricane Maranda. Thousands had died in Florida, not just because Maranda was bad, and it was, a category five, yet more irrefutable evidence that climate change was real, but because the state was broke and couldn’t afford the rescue helicopters critical to saving lives.

A third click and Governor Philip Brownback appeared, the dwarfish man standing in front of a large crowd under the California sun. “President Wellman says that we must give up Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Why? So that he can pay back foreign bankers. Do you believe this guy? He calls himself a Democrat. A Democrat? LBJ must be spinning in his grave. He says that we must take on one-ninth of the military. Why? So that he can balance the budget.

“Now, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t vote for him so that he could fleece me of every nickel and dime. The good citizens of California did not get us into this mess. Washington did, and we refuse to dig it out. That’s why as of today I’m stopping all payments to the federal government and will not resume until our demands are met. For a better California!”

“Ah, another brilliant stratagem by our esteem governor,” Heather proclaimed. “One problem. The real money is in payroll taxes, and he can’t touch those.”

“He’s trying something. You should be out there providing your input.”

“Why? No one cares what I have to say.”

“Sure, they do. You’re more beloved than you realize.”

“No, they loved my husband. But Henry had to go and get himself killed alongside millions of Arabs and Jews.” Heather brought the cigarette to her lips.

“We all miss the general, but he’s gone. We lost. We must move on.”

“Yeah. We lost, though not as much as those living in the Middle East, and the whole world blames us for it. Well, I guess the Saudis got their revenge.”

“We can’t worry about that. We need to focus on rebuilding America.”

“Don’t bother.” Heather lowered her cigarette. “We Californians should just secede.”

Rebecca gasped. “From the United States? You’re not serious, are you?”

“America’s dead. Everyone knows it. Trump and Pence drove it to the ground. So did Obama and Bush. Why drag a dead horse?”

***

Major Samantha Wethermain sat in the terminal at Luxembourg-Findel International. Her cell phone rested on her lap, its screen displaying her electronic ticket. Just thinking about the five hundred dollars it cost her to return from deployment made her bristle. She shook her head. “I know Uncle Sam is short on change but is a ticket home too much to ask?"

The speakers crackled. “Flight 228 to Huston, Texas is now boarding.”

Samantha got up, grabbed her duffle bag, and made her way to the line. She showed her cell phone and her passport before being allowed to board.

She entered the airplane and took a seat beside an elderly woman knitting a sweater.

“So, are you visiting America or returning?” the lady asked in a southern accent.

“Returning. I was stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base.”

The lady frowned. “I thought they closed that base years ago.”

“No, just recently. Ramstein was our last military base overseas.”

“Well, there goes the empire,” the lady said bitterly. “When I was a kid, we Americans were not just powerful and respected. We were exceptional. Today, we’re just another nation among many.” She patted Samantha’s hand. “I don’t blame you, dearie. It was those godforsaken liberals. They lost us the War of the Sands. Didn’t support the war effort you see. Now the Middle East is a wasteland, and we Americans are nobodies. Losers.”

Samantha nodded. Many she knew held similar views. Maybe they were right.

The lady leaned in and added, “But don’t worry yourself. We’ll restore America, make it great again, just as Trump promised. Right after we rid ourselves of the vermin who ruined it.” Then she went back to knitting her sweater and humming a tune.

Samantha eyed the lady. Did others share her opinion, and if so, what did that mean?

Chapter 2: Mother and Daughter

Fourteen hours later, her airplane landed in Huston, and Samantha transferred to another, a domestic flight that took her to Sacramento, California. It was mid-day when she finally stepped out under the sun, the terminal before her seeming deserted compared to previous visits, with only a handful of people waiting in line to board their plane.

Samantha walked past a couple trying to remove their luggage from a taxi and approached the one stationed in front of it. “I need you to take me to Prairie Filed Drive.”

“Sure thing,” the driver replied. “Right after you hand over the $120 deposit?”

“A deposit fee?” Samantha grimaced. “When has there been a deposit fee to rent a taxi?”

“Since the price of oil got to $15 a gallon and people started refusing to pay the fare because they thought they were being ripped off.”

“How much is a fare to Prairie Filed Drive going to cost me?”

“Let’s put it this way, sweetheart: odds are the deposit isn’t going to cut it.”

“Well, if it is going to cost me that much, I think I’ll find myself another cab.”

The guy shrugged. “Go ahead. They’ll charge you similar rates. Everything costs triple these days, not just the price of gas. A gallon of milk will cost you $11 and a loaf of bread 9. Blame the Saudis for blowing up the Middle East or the other nations for sanctioning the fuck out of us or Congress for defaulting on the national debt and tanking the world economy.”

Samantha eyed the cab’s meter, not eager to call her mother to ask her to send the family limo. She sighed and removed her credit card. “Hit me.”

The man scanned her card with his reader and helped her get her luggage in. Soon, they were driving south down the 519B towards the city’s center.

Samantha eyed the landscape, again, noting how empty the place seemed. The roads should be congested with traffic. Instead, only a few dozen vehicles occupied the highway, mostly self-driving sixteen wheelers, which were easy to distinguish from their manned counterparts by the lack of windows. They moved with inhuman precision, each the same distance from each other. What became of their drivers? Were they unemployed? Homeless?

Samantha turned to her driver and pondered: how long before a robot replaced him?

Construction on the highway forced them to make a detour. The taxi veered left onto a commercial district. It surprised Samantha the number of closed or for sale signs that hung from windows. Trash cans cluttered curbs, the amount making her wonder when the last garbage truck had visited. Vagrants and dogs sifted through them for food.

Samantha shook her head. “I didn’t realize that things had gotten this bad.”

“Six years of crippling sanctions will do that,” the driver said. “They say the sanctions have been lifted, but if they have, they’re not making a difference.”

“The rest of the world has more or less recovered from the War of the Sands.”

“Just not us.” He exhaled. “I don’t blame the others for slapping sanctions. We did sell the Saudis those nukes. Bit us in the ass, didn’t they?”

Samantha nodded. A lot of moronic mistakes were made during those dark days, and yet she didn’t want to dwell on them. The past was the past. America had screwed up big time, but what concerned her was how it was going to pick itself up.

The two did not speak for the rest of the drive. Afterward, Samantha paid the man an additional twelve fifty and got out. Before her, her childhood home loomed as large and as magnificent as she remembered. “Well, I guess some things never change.”

Samantha walked through the front door and realized that her previous statement was inaccurate. She scanned the atrium, growing distress.

“Where… where have all the photos of Dad gone?” she cried.

“They’re in the addict with the rest of the useless junk.”

Samantha followed the voice to the living room. Her mother, Vice Governor Heather Wethermain, laid on her favorite sofa with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other, their pet golden retriever Frank resting beside her

“Mother, you’re drunk,” Samantha noted as she lowered her duffle bag.

Heather raised the bottle. “It’s the weekend. I might have had” – hiccup – “a glass or two.”

Samantha marched over and yanked the bottle away. “Get up!”

“And why should I? I’m quite comfortable, thank you very much.”

“Why did you remove the portraits of Dad?”

“Your father’s dead, or didn’t you hear? Died in the desert with all the Israelis and Arabs.”

“You should’ve asked me before removing them. Now take a shower and make yourself presentable. I was hoping we’d go out for dinner, but not as you look now.”

Samantha grabbed Frank by the collar and led him outside to run in the backyard. The dog chased a squirrel up a nearby aspen and barked at it.

Overcome with a sense of melancholy, she leaned against a railing and brooded.

Rick Nickle, her mother’s head of security, joined her. “I heard you two getting into an argument. I’m guessing it was over your father’s portraits.”

“Dad’s been dead for six years. Why did she remove them all of a sudden?”

Rick sighed. “She’s been under a lot of stress lately, and truth be told, she has never fully gotten over his death. Probably never will.”

“That’s no excuse. She’s the vice governor of a state for crying out loud.”

“Your mother’s not the first politician to nurse the bottle. Winston Churchill was known—”

“Churchill led Great Britain against the Nazis. What has Mom ever done?”

“Don’t be too hard on her. She means well. She truly does.”

“Why do you even put up with her?”

“Well, it’s my job to watch over your mother.”

Samantha eyed him. “That’s not why you stay. You know she’ll never love you.”

Rick slumped. “Even in death, I am just an ember to your father’s flame. I get that. Still, I will not leave your mother’s side, especially when she needs me the most.”

Samantha shook her head, disgusted, and walked away. She headed for the addict and there, dusted off her father’s military portrait, Dad looking dashing in his general’s uniform. She sniffled. “I know you would want me to watch over Mom, but sometimes…”

Samantha laid her back against a wall. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with her?”

***

Supreme Inquisitor Abbot, leader of the Cabal, traversed a corridor within an underground base. He wore his hood up, concealing his immortal features. Acolytes walked past. They said not a peep, but their thoughts oozed with trepidation, made audible by his telepathy. They telegraphed their fear, and a genuine one at that, that they felt they were always stepping on eggshells when around Abbot and that one wrong word could spell disaster.

Abbot ignored them and continued down the hallway until he entered his inner sanctum. Flying buttresses held up the roof, while burners lit the pathway that led to the rear. A glass mural of Jesus Christ dominated the back wall, and red light poured through it, illuminating a raised platform that functioned similarly to a pontiff’s dais.

Abbot stepped onto the platform, got on one knee and bowed. The glass mural melted and transformed into a gravity-defying pool of liquid metal.

Abbot looked up and said, “Oh Holy One, what is thy bidding?”

A voice emanated from the pool. Just hearing it forced a chill to travel down Abbot’s spine, for he feared the being on the other side, even more than the acolytes feared him. The voice was pain. It was death. Its mere presence caused the burners to dim.

“America is at a crossroads,” the voice said. “It’s elites, both Democrats and Republicans, ignore the public, who cry out for an end to austerity. In statehouses around the country, talk of secession grows. Few trusts that President Wellman will steer America back to calmer waters, while others feel that America is over. All that is required to turn sentiment into action is a spark; an act so outrages that it will tear this nation asunder.”

Abbot nodded. “What would you have me do, Oh Holy One?”

“The desire to leave is felt most keenly in California.” The black pool swirled. “You will assassinate Governor Brownback and his family.”

Abbot pursed his lips. “And implicate President Wellman in their murders.”

“Yes. Yes. But it must be a dramatic display, one that nobody would mistake as anyone other than the federal government.”

“I will send Inquisitors. They will paint the governor’s mansion in blood.”

“No. You will handle it personally. Show Brownback your power.”

Chapter 3: The Death at The Governor’s Mansion

A week later, Governor Brownback strolled down hallways of the Governor’s Mansion, newly constructed after the old one had been destroyed during the Food Riots of 2025. Many complained about its size. The original was a two-floor dwelling, modest in design, while this one was a massive compound lined by moats and high walls. All this came with a hefty price tag, not easily justified in an era where America was suffering under a depression, but the Governor would here none of that. No price was too small when it came to his family’s safety.

Brownback turned a corner and noted lights coming from the barracks outside. Two hundred men called it home, there to protect him should the populace rebel again. Their presence soothed his otherwise fraught nerves. No one could get him here.

Brownback entered his study and reached for a bottle of scotch on his desk. “TV, on.”

The voice of a newscaster blared behind him. “Ming One, China’s first manned mission to Mars, reached the planet in seventeen days, a new record made possible thanks to Russian-powered antimatter rockets. In other news, the United States’ economy lost another hundred thousand jobs this month, a slight improvement over last month’s job numbers—”

“Change to a different channel,” Brownback said before taking a shot of his whiskey.

“With rumors swirling that the price of wheat is about to rise as much as 130%, protest have erupted in cities across the country. Several governors have hired additional law enforcement personnel, fearful of a repeat of the Food Riots of 2025 that—”

“Television, off,” Brownback said, then gulped down another shot. “America’s economy is a dumpster fire, and people actually expect me to save—”

An explosion roared in the distance. Brownback gazed north. Five Apache helicopters flew overhead. Rockets erupted from missile racks.

“What in God’s name? How can we be under attack? Who would dare—”

The door behind him burst open. Brownback turned and saw his head of security, Tom Harper, as well as several other agents, run in and form a circle around him.

“Governor, get down,” Tom said. He spoke into his wristwatch. “The Governor has been located and secured. Teams, form a defensive perimeter around the complex.”

“What about my wife and kids?” Brownback asked. “Are they alright?”

“Agent Mandy has them. She’s taking them to the basement.” He turned to another agent. “Jerry, manned the window. The rest of you: guard the entrance.”

Jerry bolted to the window and looked out, while the others left the room.

“Who the Hell is attacking us?” Brownback asked. “Who has Apaches?”

“We don’t know yet, governor.” Tom glanced at Jerry. “Agent, what do you see? Is it safe for us to move the governor to the underground bunker?”

“Um… um…” A bright light pierced the windows. “Um, no. Not even close.”

Brownback peeked up, just high enough to see out the window. The light came from a searchlight bolted onto the side of a Blackhawk helicopter.

More Blackhawk helicopters descended and landed on the front lawn. Soldiers in Special Forces uniforms got out and fired on his security detail. Sniper rifles on rooftops went off, but then the Apache helicopters returned fire and silenced them with rockets.

The Special Forces operatives moved forward, using trees, shrubbery, and statues as cover while they unleashed suppressing fire. A rocket launcher blossomed and ejected a missile. An explosion lit up the landscape beyond, as well as the interior of his study.

“Damn, this place is turning into a war zone,” Jerry said. “Where’s the police? SWAT?”

Tom picked up the landline on the desk and dialed out. “Jackie, what the Hell is going on? We need more… Hello? Hello?” He put the phone down. “The landline’s been cut.” He reached for his cell phone. “Zero bars? Damn, they must be jamming us.”

Brownback trembled as another eruption rocked the building. “My wife and kids—” He paused. A new helicopter approached and touched down on the lawn.

Brownback squinted. A single occupant, a man in a business suit, got out. “What the Hell?”

***

Franklin Huntsmen directed five dozen men towards the mansion’s foyer, a multi-story gathering hall with a second floor held up by white marble pillars and a fountain located at the room’s center. Water cascaded down its sides, a mermaid lying on top, while moonlight poured through the sunroof, bathing the fountain in a shimmering halo.

Franklin ordered his men to position themselves along the second and third floors’ railings and waited, their rifles aimed at the doors that opened to the courtyard.

Those doors parted, and a single combatant walked in, dressed in a striped business suit.

Franklin frowned. Was the guy clutching a long sword?

“Drop the weapon,” he cried.

The combatant gazed back at him with a granite stare. What was wrong with this guy?

“Don’t make me repeat myself. My men will use lethal force. Now drop it. Drop it now.”

“Is he crazy?” one of his men whispered. “Who brings a sword to a gun fight?”

The combatant continued to stare at them, defiant, even as the sound of gunfire could be heard wailing outside, a constant reminder of the real threat.

Fuck it, Franklin thought. They didn’t have time for this. “Open fire, men. Take him down.”

The combatant brought up his sword and intercepted several bullets. The rest failed to reach him, their trajectories having changed directions, as if an invisible hand held them and guided the projectiles back to their senders, enlisting cries and curses. Then the combatant moved towards the stairs, his sword hand a blur as he maintained his defense. He made a gesture at one soldier, a seasoned agent armed with a submachine gun, and the man flew towards him. A flick of the wrist, and swish, the corpse tumbled across the room in two halves.

“Keep firing,” Franklin screamed over the roar of his own submachine gun. “Don’t stop!”

Franklin turned. Jim and Bradford gasped as electrical wires erupted from the walls and lifted them up by their necks, their limbs flailing aimlessly.

Franklin jerked his head, rattled by a horrid cry. One of his men tumbled down a flight of stairs as the combatant ascended it, still batting bullets aside.

“Don’t let him get closer,” Franklin shouted and resumed firing. “Shoot him. Shoot him.”

An agent stepped in front of him and leveled his grenade launcher. The grenade detonated off an invisible wall .the combatant seemed to project with a gesture.

Franklin yelped, startled when the explosion flew backward and engulfed his men.

“This isn’t possible. None of this is possible. We’re getting slaughtered here.”

Franklin dashed down the hallway, the pleas of his dying men following his every step.

“Form a line,” he said to the six who were guarding the door. “This is where we make our last stand. We can’t let him reach the govenor.”

Back down the hallway, his men bellowed and wailed as more electrical wires exploded out of the walls and sliced them into cubes of meat.

Franklin raised his submachine gun. “Eat lead, motherfucker! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!”

****

Inside the governor’s office, cries could be heard reverberating from beyond the doorway, inhuman shrills that Brownback didn’t believe a man could make. What was going on out there? Who the hell was attacking them? Trembling, he soiled himself.

Then it went quiet. No more guns went off. No more sounds of men dying. Just silence. A dreadful silence ended by the chattering of his teeth.

“Wait here, Governor.” Tom crept towards the door, his pistol drawn. “Franklin, did you get the—" He and Jerry rose into the air, blood gushing from their orifices.

Their corpses shriveled and plopped to the floor, and the door swung open.

Brownback examined the dead before turning his gaze to the entrance. The man that he had seen earlier, the one in the striped business suit, with a trimmed beard, oily raven hair and emerald eyes, stood just beyond the doorway. With a sword in one hand, he tugged at his suit’s sleeves with the other. “Hello, Governor. Are you enjoying your evening?”

Brownback jittered. “W-who are you? What did you just do to my men?”

The man navigated around Tom’s corpse as he made his approach. “My name is Abbot Pavlovich, and I killed your men with telekinesis.”

Brownback reached for the pistol he hid in his desk and aimed. "Stay back! You hear me?”

A smile formed on Abbot’s lips, followed by a chuckle. “Why such hostility?”

“Why?” The pistol rattled in Brownback’s hand. “You attack my home, murder my men with…with that telekinesis thingy of yours and you ask me why?”

“I am merely a servant of our Lord, Jesus, here to bring the good news about salvation.”

“And Tom and the others? What did you bring them save death?”

Abbot shrugged. “Well, as the saying goes, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”

With eye’s closed, Brownback pulled the trigger. Bang.

One second. Two seconds, and still no sound of a body smacking against the floor. Shivering, Brownback peaked out, only to gasped as he realized the bullet was hovering in mid-air, just inches from Abbot’s nose. He moved it aside with a finger. “Tisk, tisk. Was that really necessary? And here I thought we were having a pleasant conversation.”

Abbot made a gesture, and Brownback’s desk catapulted sideways, clearing all obstacles between them. Then he twisted his hand and Brownback flew towards him.

Dangling a foot off the ground, Brownback stared into Abbot’s eyes. He dropped the pistol and mumbled, “Please, let my wife and kids go. Kill me but leave them alone.”

Abbot drew closer. “Oh, I wish I could. Truly, but you see, Governor, I need you and your family to help me save America and the world.”

Chapter 4: The Morning After

Heather Wethermain got the call at four in the morning. Suffering a hangover, she had an extra cup of coffee and took a cold shower. Then she got dressed and headed for the state legislator. She was only starting to come to when the swearing-in ceremony transpired two hours later, and now she was acting governor and being whisked away towards the crime scene in the governor’s limo, with an escort of patrol cars and police helicopters in tow.

As she neared the governor’s mansion, smoke became visible, rising over its crumbled walls. Heather placed a hand to her mouth. “It’s even worse than I thought.”

The limo turned into the driveway and passed the main gate. Holes lined the walls, and police vehicles were parked to one side. Officers took pictures, while more drew outlines around bodies. Her limo came to a stop at the front entrance, and she got out.

Heather gazed forward and gasped. The severed heads of Governor Brownback, his wife, and three daughters were skewed on pikes like totem poles.

She closed her eyes, tears escaping despite her best efforts.

A police officer wearing plain clothing walked up to her and offered her a hand. “Madam Governor, I’m Detective Holloway. I’m leading this investigation.”

Heather took his hand, yet her eyes remained glued on the heads. “Hello, detective.”

Holloway glanced over his shoulder. “Gruesome. The youngest was seven. I’ve seen a lot in my time on the force, but this…” He sighed. “This is something else.”

“I knew them. That seven-year-old dreamed of becoming a ballerina.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I meant no offense.”

“None taken. Do you have any idea who might have been behind this?”

Holloway grimaced. “I’ve got guys reviewing the security footage as we speak. Much of it appears to be corrupted, possibly done deliberately, but what little footage we could salvage shows people in military gear, backed up by Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, attacking the mansion and killing everyone inside before leaving with their dead.”

Heather frowned. “If the footage was corrupted, why would any of it have survived?”

He gave her a perplexed look. “Your guess is as good as mine. Normally I would say sloppiness, but everything else about this raid suggests—”

“Detective.” An officer exited the mansion, ran down some steps and approached them. “Sir, we’ve just matched several of the unknown DNA samples.”

“That was fast,” Heather said. “I thought that would take days, maybe even weeks.”

“New DNA scanners. Almost makes the people at forensic useless.”

“I’ll take your word for it, officer,” Heather said. “So, what does it say?”

The officer handed her a datapad. She examined the face on it, her right eyebrow raising. “Major Richard Wilcock, currently assigned to Delta Force.”

Holloway extended a hand. “Madam Governor, if I may?”

“Of course, detective. This is your investigation after all. What do you make of it?”

Holloway eyed the device. “Well, according to this, all of the previously unidentified DNA samples collected belong to active Delta Force members.”

“There’s something else,” the officer said. “We’ve been reviewing the video footage from the battle and managed to id one of the Blackhawk helicopters.”

“And does this mean you know who it belongs to?” Heather asked.

“Yes, ma’am. The United States military.”

“Officer Michel, how can you be sure?” Holloway asked.

“Every government issued helicopter has a registration number painted on its tail. This one matches a Blackhawk assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”

“My daughter was posted to Fort Bragg once,” Heather said. “It’s the HQ of Delta Force.”

Holloway turned to Heather and held up a hand. “Madam Governor, we’ve only begun our investigation. Let’s not jump to any conclusions.”

Heather panned and scanned the ruined landscape. “You’re right, detective. Still, all evidence points to the federal government being behind this. And if that turns out to be the case, then the President of the United States has just declared war on California.”

Chapter 5: The Grand Experiment Has Failed

Three months had passed, and Heather found herself in the center of a political shit storm. Biblical World Tribune, owned by a fellow governor, Gregory di Conti, was the first to report that the federal government might have been behind the attack and just hours after it. The speed of their reporting caught everyone by surprise. At the behest of Detective Holloway, Heather refused to comment, waiting instead for him to complete his investigation.

Things deteriorated rapidly. More news organizations began reporting the claim, and all eyes turned to her for answers. Heather had none. Protests erupted in cities throughout the state. Some devolved into riots, entire neighborhoods burned, hundreds left dead, and she was left with no choice but to declare martial law and send in the national guard.

Information about the investigation leaked like a broken water main. Again, the most accurate details came from the Biblical World Tribune. Tales of men strangled by electrical wires. Others being hacked to pieces. None of it made sense, and yet it was all true.

Tensions continue to ratchet up. Then two and half months into the investigation, Lieutenant General Mike Ditmore, head of Joint Special Operations Command, was arrested by the FBI, and charged with forging presidential orders to attack the governor’s mansion.

Heather had hoped that his arrest would bring an end to the crisis, but instead, Biblical World Tribune ran yet another story, this one proclaiming that Ditmore had been set up by the Wellman administration. Having already been vindicated in their original story about the murders, many believed them. Even larger riots broke out, and thousands died.

Now Heather found herself walking down the halls of the state legislator, her daughter in tow. “Mom, think about what you are about to do. This could lead to war.”

“Sweetheart, President Wellman declared war the second he ordered Phil’s execution.”

Samantha shook her head. “He claims Ditmore gave the order, not him. A special prosecutor has been assigned to determine who is at fault.”

“And in the meantime, America is going to burn to the ground, with us along with it.” Heather picked up her pace. “Right now, we have the largest military in the union, not to mention the West Coast Orbital Défense Network. If we break off today, several other states might join us. President Wellman won’t stop us, not if he’s facing revolts in the other states.”

“Don’t be too sure. He will go to any length to save America. Don’t push him.”

“Save America?” Heather huffed and turned a corner. “America’s dead. It has been dying for decades. Why can’t you or the President see that?”

Heather stopped and twirled, pinged by remorse. She grabbed her daughter’s chin and said, “Sweetheart, I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I need you. Can I expect your support in the days to come? Can we be a family again? For your father’s memory.”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Mom, but my allegiances are to the United States.”

Heather withdrew her hand. “Then perhaps it’s best you leave California.”

Samantha’s face contorted in pain. “If… if you believe that’s for the best.”

Emotions swirled within Heather. She stared at her daughter, tormented and not wanting to say the next two words that would end their relationship, perhaps forever. What she would give to keep this moment frozen in time, but the moment passed. “I do.”

Samantha sniffled and wiped her eyes before nodding. “Okay. I will go. Goodbye… mother.”

Heather watched her daughter stroll off. A teardrop scrolled down her cheek, and she barely caught it in time. She brought it up to examine it.

A hand grasped her shoulder. “Give her time. She’ll come back.”

Heather turned to find Rick staring at her. She withdrew, fearful of embracing him, of showing weakness. “I… should get going. I… have a speech to make.”

Rick smiled fondly. “Of course, Governor. The legislature is waiting for you.”

Rick escorted Heather to the door leading into the state legislator. He didn’t follow as she made her way to the podium customarily reserved for the Speaker.

Heather paused, collected her thoughts, and said, “To the good people of California, the time for unity has passed. Once, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin what he and the other Founding Fathers had created: a monarchy or a republic, and he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Well, now we know the answer to that statement, and it is a definitive no.

“The system of checks and balances that our Founding Fathers put in place have failed us. Washington no longer serves the interests of the common man, only the wealthy and party elites. I see no point in maintaining this façade. It is broken, and it can never be fixed. The only recourse for the people of California is to leave the union. Forever.”

***

A day had passed since Governor Weatherman’s proclamation. Supreme Inquisitor Abbot and Grand Inquisitor Gregory di Conti walked down a corridor. Both were dressed in suits instead of their traditional black robes, and Abbot felt a little exposed without his hood up. He’d become so accustomed to concealing his immortal appearance. It didn’t seem right.

“I’ve ordered the Biblical World Tribune to air another hit piece,” di Conti said. “We’ll call Wellman a coward for waiting so long to issue a direct statement.”

“Be careful with your words,” Abbot said. “You don’t want to come across as eager for war.”

“No, not until hostilities start. Then I will paint myself as the one most willing to bring this conflict to a conclusion while portraying Wellman as feckless and weak.”

“Which will set you up nicely for your presidential run.” Abbot nodded, then stared forward and let out a sigh. “I feel bad about throwing Grand Inquisitor Ditmore under the bus, but once we get you elected President, you can pardon him of all criminal wrongdoings.”

“I don’t like it either, but the good general had to take the fall. The public must not become aware of us or that we had Brownback assassinated.”

“True. Still, Mike is a good man and a strong defender of Christ.”

“Most people see him as a martyr. They will welcome his release.”

Abbot nodded. They reached a window at the far side of the hallway. Beyond stood the city of Columbia, South Carolina, di Conti’s hometown. Abbot eyed thousands of protestors marching down the main street and near the courthouse, waving either Confederate flags or American flags. Some held up the California state flag, but they all were burning.

Abbot clasped his hands behind his back. “Fractures are forming along old fault lines, just as the Holy One foresaw. When President Wellman declares war, it will be liberals versus conservatives, Republicans versus Democrats. We will finish what our ancestors started, but this time, the South will be victorious, and we will forge an even more perfect union.”

“Yes,” di Conti said, “one that is based on Christian values, and where the Negros and the other lesser races will know their rightful place: beneath our boots.”

Chapter 6: War!

Five weeks had passed. Samantha walked down the main street in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a city that was home to Fort Bragg, the headquarters for the Army's Special Forces unit, Delta Force. She had moved there after accepting reassignment to the elite group.

Few knew that she was a native of California, let alone the daughter of the most hated person in America, and Samantha worked hard to keep it that way. She rarely interacted with people, but when she did, discussions inevitably turned towards the upcoming war.

It seemed surreal to Samantha that war was a foregone conclusion. Yet that was the opinion of almost everyone she talked too, and scarier, many were looking forward to it. Many saw it as a chance to redeem America by cleansing the filth they believed had cost them the last one. Few even saw her fellow Californians as human beings, people who were just trying to make a living and feed their families, but instead, as cockroaches that needed to be crushed.

After buying coffee at one of the twelve remaining coffee shops in Fayetteville, she headed to the military base. She recalled how Dad would take her around the fort he commanded, and the awe and wonder she felt as she watched trained soldiers honed their skills. As she entered Fort Bragg, a part of her reconnected to that simpler time, and yet the emotions were tainted by the realization that she might be called upon to waged war against the people she loved.

Samantha brought her car to a stop. Soldiers were making their way to the mess hall. She got out and ran towards one. “What is going on, soldier?”

“The President is addressing the nation,” the man said, and he jogged towards the building. Samantha followed. They entered the mess hall to find everyone gathered underneath a giant LED screen, with the President’s address already underway.

President Wellman stood behind his desk in the Oval Office. “…greaves me that it has come to this, that we could not find common ground to address our differences peacefully, but I cannot in good conscience allow our nation to be torn asunder. As of two o'clock this afternoon, I have sent word to Governor Wethermain that the United States of America is at war with the State of California and any other state or nation that provides it with assistance of any kind.”

Most of the soldiers in the mess hall raised their fists and cheered. Samantha’s breath quickened, a sense of vertigo overtaking her.

“This can’t be happening,” she whispered. “This cannot be happening.”

“Damn right it’s happening,” the guy beside her said. “We’ll grind those traitors to dust.”

Lieutenant General Steve Maloriak walked into the room. Everyone went stiff and saluted.

Maloriak returned the gesture. “At ease, people. I know you’re all excited to get out there and take the fight to the enemy, but remember, we’re professionals. We cannot allow emotions to influence our judgment. I expect every one of you to remember that.”

An officer raised a hand. “Sir, is Delta Force going to be sent into battle anytime soon?”

“First,” Maloriak said, “let me state that the President doesn’t hold all of Delta Force responsible for General Ditmore’s actions regarding the death of Brownback. While I can’t give any details yet, rest assured that Delta Force will be part of the spear’s tip.”

The group asked the general several more questions, and he answered them. Afterward, he approached Samantha. "Major, I would like to speak with you in my office.”

Samantha gulped. Did he presume her of being a traitor like her mother? “I’ll comply, sir.”

Samantha followed the general to the building next door to the mess hall. They climbed a flight of stairs before entering the man’s office. Maloriak walked over to a wall and removed a picture. “I thought you would be interested in seeing this.”

He handed Samantha the photograph. It was a picture of the general and Dad.

Maloriak took a seat behind his desk. “I served under your father during the War of the Sands as part of the U.N. Taskforce’s Alpha Team.”

“That was the elite multinational Special Forces unit.”

“Yes. Our job was to go deep behind enemy lines and stick it to the Islamic Caliphate and their Saudi masters. It was we who destroyed the antimatter assembler in Yemen. Your dad was as ballsy as they got. I was stateside when the nukes fell.”

Samantha examined the photograph, her fingers tracing her father’s dashing face.

Maloriak leaned forward on his desk. “I know this cannot be easy for you, and it will only get worse once you find yourself on the battlefield.”

Samantha looked up. “Sir, my loyalty is first and foremost to the United States.”

“I would expect nothing less from the daughter of General Wethermain.” He frowned. “Look. I can have you reassigned if you like, at least until hostilities are over.”

Samantha eyed her father’s photo again. What would Dad do? “I’m grateful, general, but my place is here. Someone has to stop my mother’s madness.”

“And if I ordered you to arrest, even assassinate her, would you do it?”

Again, Samantha stared at her father. What would he do? "As I said, sir, my allegiances are to Uncle Sam and President Wellman so yes.”

“Good. Good. You are dismissed, major.”

Samantha got up and handed the photo back to the general before exiting his office. She ran for several miles, then leaned against a tree and began sobbing.

“Mother, what have you brought down upon us? What are we going to do?”

***

A few minutes later, Maloriak worked on his laptop and typed a proposal to the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding Delta Force’s role in the invasion. A phone buzzed on his desk. He picked it up and answered, “This is General Maloriak speaking. Who’s calling?”

“High Inquisitor Maloriak, how goes your mission?” Supreme Inquisitor Abbot asked.

“Wonderful, master. I just had a chat with Major Samantha Wethermain.”

“Governor Wethermain’s daughter? Interesting. How did it go?”

“Good. I think she will serve our plans nicely.”

Chapter 7: Operation Enduring Diligence

September 26th, 2027. Day 1 of C-Day, Operation Enduring Diligence.

Samantha sat in the rear cabin of a Seahawk, a replacement for the aging Blackhawk helicopter.

The tiltjet aircraft swayed side to side, the Golden Gate Bridge visible from the port hatch. She poked her head out and scanned the landscape.

The City of San Francisco loomed to the south, a majestic metropolis of shimmering skyscrapers and green parks that until today had never known conflict. Warships dotted its harbor, and they exchanged gunfire, missiles, and invisible laser beams.

Projectiles from mobile railguns sailed past, almost clipping one of the Seahawk’s wings. Flak shells detonated on either side of the aircraft, a dazzling, if also deadly display. One hit a slower moving Blackhawk, and the craft spun out of control.

Samantha leaned back and turned to her men. “Listen up. Our objective is City Hall. We are to storm it with the help of the 36th Texas Infantry Division and capture the mayor.”

“And force him to get his forces to stand down and surrender the city,” one of her men said.

“Exactly. Command wants this done as quickly as possible.”

“Let’s hope he’s not too cooperative. I’ve got some godless Californians to torch,” Sergeant Blair Hasting said, a man encased in seven-foot-nine powered armor. He kneeled in the cabin, his right hand cradling a heavy machine gun with a built-in flamethrower.

Samantha frowned. “We are still required to uphold the Military Code and the Geneva Conventions. I expect you all to conduct yourselves by them.”

“Those aren’t God’s laws,” countered Hasting. “Leviticus says all His enemies must die.”

"Do that, and I'll have you court-martialed.”

“What kind of Christian are you, ma’am?”

“The kind that doesn’t commit war crimes. I don’t want to hear about Leviticus. America isn’t governed by it. We follow the Constitution. Understood?”

“But, those bastards cost us the War of the Sands. Israel was destroyed!”

“I don’t care. We aren’t war criminals. Are we going to have a problem, sergeant?”

Hasting brooded. “No, ma’am. We’re not.”

“Good. Then double check your gear and prepare yourself to debark.”

Samantha turned, bothered by the man’s attitude. Should she order him to stay behind? There were few trained in the use of powered armor, suits that gave the wearer the strength of a rhino, as well as immunity to small arms fire. If she told him to remain, she would be depriving her team of a powerful asset. That could cost her lives, even the mission.

Samantha exhaled. She didn’t have the luxury to order him to stay back. She would just have to keep an eye on Hasting and hope she didn’t come to regret it.

Moments later, the Seahawk descended on the Presidio, a park on the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. More Seahawks landed, and more marines debarked. Behind them, Abram and Bradley tanks rolled up the shoreline, followed by Paterson Walking Destroyers.

The Patersons lumbered forward on bird-like legs, bigger than Abram tanks. Their single 140mm rear mounted cannons roared, while their arm cannons spat out 30mm bullets at hyper velocities. Rockets blossomed from the side of their arms.

The large autonomous drones left three toe impressions in the grass and dirt. Samantha darted beneath one, its belly five feet above her helmet.

Hasting and those suited up in powered armor moved ahead of her. They soaked up enemy bullets with their battle shields and fired back with their machine guns. They pressed the attack, the enemy unable to hold the beach, and a general retreat was issued.

Hasting fired his heavy machine gun into the backs of those fleeing the battle.

Samantha raised a hand. “Sergeant, that’s enough.”

He downed two more enemy combatants before stopping. “You just have to ruin my day.”

“We’re here to take back the city, not rack up kills. Is that understood, soldier?”

“Yeah.” Hasting slung his rifle over his shoulder. “You’re such a buzz kill.”

Samantha shook her head, her teeth grinding together as she led her unit forward. “And, I thought my mother was a handful.”

***

Heather Wethermain sat behind her desk in the governor’s office. Her generals and senior staff watched a live feed of the Battle of San Francisco. T